Merry Hell have got to be the best live band in the country. I realise that this is a bold statement but why else would FATEA have chosen them to headline the magazine’s 30th Birthday Bash in November?
I have been lucky enough to see MH play live numerous times in both their electric and acoustic formations. Whichever you choose, there is no better place to see this awesome band play live than in front of their adoring hometown crowd in Wigan. This weekend MH played electrically on Saturday night and acoustically on Sunday evening. I saw the acoustic show and they nailed it.
The venue for both shows was The Old Courts, which is now an excellent community arts centre. As its name suggests, it was once the home of Wigan County Court and, I have say, it felt quite strange to attend a gig in the very room where, as a nervous young lawyer, I used to appear before Your Honour. I have to say that the present use of the building is rather more welcoming especially when it is filled to capacity with Merry Hell’s enthusiastic , good-natured and loyal hometown crowd.
The evening opened with a superb set by talented singer-songwriter Jenny Colquitt. Jenny gave us some new songs, plus a couple from her delightful EP “The Quiet Kind”. I was particularly taken by “Lifeboat” with its lovely melody and finger-picked guitar, together with the complementary composition “Tornado”, about the same relationship. Equally impressive was “Wide Open Spaces” which asks the question “why do we leave wide open spaces in between our love?” Jenny concluded her set with excellent covers of Sting’s “Fields of Gold” and Christine McVie’s “Songbird” in tribute to her favourite artist, Eva Cassidy.
After a short interval, the six-piece Merry Hell Acoustic took to the stage to give us a preview of their forthcoming Acoustic Live Album “Anthems To The Wind” on which they will revisit and re-interpret some of their abundant back catalogue of songs. As a generous gesture to their loyal supporters they even gave away free CD tasters for the album to every member of the audience.
What can I say about a Merry Hell gig that I and others (notably fellow FATEA writer and Merry Hell enthusiast, Ian Cripps, who was in the audience tonight) haven’t already said? Well, if you haven’t experienced Merry Hell live, you don’t know what you have missed!
An evening with Merry Hell is a roller coaster ride through a series of emotions from rousing drinking songs (“Let’s Not Have A Morning After”; “Drunken Serenade”) to stirring political anthems (“Stand Down”) to songs of hope and inspiration (“We Need Each Other Now” ; “Come On England”) to songs of loss and love (“Leave A Light On” ; “Lean On Me Love”) to amusing, whimsical numbers like the sing-along “Bury Me Naked” , “The Butcher And The Vegan”and “The Baker’s Daughter”. I know of no other band which comes even close to having such a varied and in-depth catalogue of songs on such diverse subjects and which is able to connect with its audience in such an empathetic way.
A marvellous performance and a grand time was had by all. Can’t wait for the new live album.
Words: Peter Cowley
Photos: Mike Jones
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